Andrea Lambert is the author of Jet Set Desolate. Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin. Bleed Almond. Scaffolding. Hollywood Hedgewitch. Grieving Through American Horror Story. Chapbooks: G(u)ilt and Lexapro Diary. Anthologies: Impact, Golden State 2017, Haunting Muses, Writing the Walls Down and elsewhere. From 2028-2020 her food col “Dining wumnith a Cursed Bloodline.” appeared in Entropy Magazine. Writing in Luna Luna Magazine, OCCULUM, Grimoire and elsewhere. Twitter: @AndreaLamber.
Performance in the theatrical sense implies backstage. A binary of public and private. Dressing room to take off makeup and uncomfortable head dress. Green room, to nibble baby carrots with other participants.
I tend towards dying arts that thrived in my childhood. The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego where I cut my baby teeth on “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Othello.” In graduate art school, I saw a lot of experimental theatre because it was happening all over campus near constantly. What else does a carless thirty year old in the dorms have to do at night? Otherthen drink too much red wine.
I have never been an actor, but learning how to perform my writing and ride along with the energy of a crowd was a thrill. Being in queer performance art in Los Angeles and West Hollywood was last I was on a stage. Played Los Angeles Pride in 2015. When I still could be around people. Now I perform via tech device when I get the urge. Thank you, Internet.
In a satiric YouTube video I make called, “Behind the scenes at Lambert Studios,” I film and splice clips of my house’s interior where DIY solo YouTubing occurs. Bathroom as dressing room. Comfy covered porch as green room. Costume closets #1 & #2 bursting with fantastical clothes I wouldn’t dare wear past my door step. Invaluable now. I can barely leave my house as it is.
I wrote thirty eight experimental plays with my only the interior of my home as settling in 2018. Same number as Shakespeare, says the Echo Dot. Guess we’re both stoners. Writing down the voices in my head as other characters. With myself as the one human in the script. An effective way of putting my psychosis to work until I could sleep.
A family friend theatre amateur in Reno judged the script I sent him as not even a play but a free verse rant. He suggested I actually see and read a few plays. Errrrr….. This experimental was unstageable in Reno’s pay to play theatre scene. In that way he did tell me what I needed to know. “The Buttcracker,” and “Menopause: The Musical,” is the level of performance in this biggest little backwoods. I couldn’t get tickets for that musical, because the Pioneer Center doesn’t allow online ticket booking with an out of state phone number.
I’ll bite my tongue now because all I need is a slander lawsuit. Along with death threats have came lawsuit threats, only spoken anecdotally but apparently I qualify for giving away my life and pain away for free online. Not all opinions are positive. I use my own life as material. I can’t make this shit up. I try so hard to be ethical, but people are unscrupulous.
I dropped the class “Narrative Ethics,” at CalArts after a brutal critique deemed an essay “performing an ethical disaster.” I was wasted drunk when I wrote most of that text, true. As a queer from the eighties had a lot of feelings about HIV and how to navigate writing about it in such difficult ethical waters. I got reamed in workshop for having feels about Rent.
At CalArts, experimental writing and critical theory were vaunted over populist heartstring pulling.
Some high art groupie trying for snark said, “Oh AIDS, that’s so sentimental and passé.” At a David Wojnarowicz retrospective in Los Angeles. At the end of the 2000s. I wanted to throw my plastic cup of red wine all over her white rabbit jacket. If I wasn’t so intimidated simply to be there. A decade later, I will hex a bitch in such situations. Maledictus erit.
My Schizoaffective auditory hallucinations make crowds intolerable now. Mass shootings are common in this Wild West. Lax gun laws guns are considered way more important then adequate healthcare. October 1 is not only my birthday, but Las Vegas’s most dire massacre.
I don’t fight, I just leave. I fled a family outing to see my uncle perform in the Reno Philharmonic this summer. For all that I love his music. That many potentially armed Nevadans were terrifying to multiply marginalized me. Incapable of inconspicuous. Even at something as wholesome as a classical music picnic.
It is difficult for me to leave the house. I have what I can afford delivered and do without the rest. My multiple mental illnesses are degenerative. Diagnosed in the Prozac Nation nineties? It’s been pills with unknown long term side effects ever since. Enabling whatever hoopla I manage to pull off. Thirty years on nonconsensual antipsychotics that were known since the 1950’s to cause tardive dyskinesia? Unpredictable loss of bodily control. Jerking movements. Motor control difficulties. Dizziness. Accidental difficulty walking until that capacity is lost. I wondered why I was so dedicated to assistive technology and setting up voice recognition within my home.
I swallow what passing pride I have left. Order a recommended shower chair. I slipped and hit my head, so showering became a PTSD trigger. I take baths. Until the addition of Freddie Mercury Lambert, Jasper’s cat. Nevada Jacobson-Lambert, from my first marriage, started shitting in the bathtub to act out. Blended families aren’t easy. Even with these cute little fuckers. No wonder I smelled like a polecat doused in sickly sweet Velvet Tuberose.
All I want to do is bathe and have a cup of coffee. I’m only forty three. Prozac Nation’s Elizabeth Wurtzel was 52 when she passed, as this essay was written.
I can no longer drink coffee without it spilling everywhere. I grit my teeth and drink cold coffee from an adult convalescent sippy cup now. After enduring the “Summer of straws,” where abled’s on Twitter expressed that the Disabled, many who could not drink fluids at all without disposable plastic straws, were acceptable subhuman collateral damage for saving sea turtles.
Cans of unassailable sweet tart tasting energy drinks were my constant sidekick. Cans don’t spill if my hands shake or jerk uncontrollably with tardive dykinesia. Known side effect of a lifetime of antipsychotics. The reason I now walk strangely, fall on hardwood floors when I wear socks. I can only wear flat shoes outside. Exquisite platform heels gather dust behind flat boots. Encouraging agoraphobia because I’m embarrassed of flailing in public and something more humiliating or life destroying happening. The psychiatrists I’ve had must have all known this would happen as it been common psychiatric knowledge since the 1960s. Did they not think I’d live to see it’s full development?
I don’t even have to ask why I don’t matter. Society told me with all those shots of non consensual Haldol in my ass. Long term effects from these antipsychotics were never researched, says my research, yet other recipients of these human experiments must exist if it was being used in the 1950s. That’s how time works. Certainly reads as no scientist in seventy years thought the quality of life for older schizophrenics is worth their time.
It makes me feel like no one can be trusted. The medical establishment relied upon all my adult life for medication pulled Melania Trump, “I don’t care, do you?”
Regrettably, my overambitious yet entirely on brand for iratic Schizoaffective/Bipolar overcommitment slashed with catatonic depression, personal disaster and decking the halls, “Hollywood Hedgewitch” as a video project took a wee break. Exhibit part #240 of how chronic illness unpredictability keeps me permanently unemployable.
Six months later, now that my marriage is saved and I am feeling creative again, I am thinking about resuming it. We’ll see.
“Time has a way of working these things out.”
The Royals on E!
Today’s heartbreaking attempt to build out a domain I thought I owned, being as I just received a WHOSIS email about it, led me to google WordPress scams and it all came clear. The Internet is as corrupt and untrustworthy as the humans that created it. This portfolio site has held up, and for that I am extremely thankful.
It’s really hard to clear up all those trust issues when people keep pulling these dangerous scams. Reconfirming to me once and for all that while there are a few great loyal people in my life, there are also many scammers out there who would harvest every drop of personal information they can glean from my selective specificity in creative nonfiction for nefarious acts.
Trust no one.”
That includes death threat scams, whether from bounty hunters or impersonators of ancient cults, robocall scams, other people’s lawyers seeking to sue me, etc… All that rather nasty stuff that comes with rising of profile.
Fame is a Prison
Although the death threats took ovaries of steel and acute agoraphobic shutdown, nevertheless I persist. It’s not like I need or want to go outside or have normal interpersonal interactions beyond the select few who have proven themselves.
Unscrupulous data harvesting and weaponizing of data motivated me to shut down this sweatshop of one for a few difficult months. Especially as it is, in a sense, philanthropy. I don’t see freelance paychecks from any of my creativity. I don’t have assistants,/agents/PR people, any of it. Web hosting and other fees come from my SSDI Disability check.
Suing me for fantasy funds because I put up a good smoke and mirrors show will not yield much but a few doilies and refuse of dead arts. Did you really want to go to all that trouble for a pile of books and records?
Besides, what did I do? Why are you angry? Who am I even talking to? I’m a bit in the dark here. Perhaps Schizoaffective paranoia, but a lot of receipts have been piling up.
So let’s just not go there. I much prefer working things out amicably. Which to my knowledge is already done with the issues I am aware of. Please let me know personally remotely in print if anyone has further legitimate legal issues and we’ll work it out.
If you just want me dead? Don’t expect me to pay you to prevent it. Some bounty hunters already tried that.
I don’t like to flex, yet I am not as vulnerable or helpless as my literary persona may appear. Information asymmetry is a tool of modern warfare, my attorney father schooled me well. The other arrows in my quiver I hold close to to my chest hoping to never have to use them.
Now back to regularly unscheduled unplaced writing, kittens, unicorns and bunnies.
Check out the full novel reading playlist on Youtube here. I’ll be adding to it over time until the whole book is on there.
Publishing is ableist AF. I want people to hear my stories. Read my unpublished manuscripts by whatever medium. I fully admit they’re not good enough for the gatekeepers I tried to publish them with for so many years. I am too mentally ill to be able to handle the financial complications of self-publishing. Or afford the initial financial outlay.
This is my last resort. Giving my books away for free by performing them. Think of it as bedtime stories for cynical adults. Disabled people do contribute, and our lives are valuable either way.
Please do not put me in an institution. Or euthanize me. Or take away my SSDI I paid into for 10 grueling years. Just because I can sit inside on a computer for a decade and write things no one wants to publish does not mean I can work any job. Neither does rudimentary iMovie video editing. Twelve year olds these days know how to do that now a days. We have tween Martin Scorcese’s all over TikTok.
Please just watch and enjoy the serial novels I feel compelled to put into the world.
But wow were my concerns trivial, no wonder no agent would take this book. So I’m playing film studio because my wife works long shifts and I can only watch so much TV. Having a bit of a dumb existential crisis over, “Why am I bothering to do all this when it’s not important, practical and who cares?” Perennial artist question, esp. as my lie is empty other then my wife and cats. Here’s the next three chapters:
Before Trump drove America to ruin, I used to be able to write books about taking nice little California train trips , trying to decide about marrying and even still care about becoming famous (HAHAHAHAHAHA right?) Yeah, I have real problems now.
But for what it’s worth, if this story is amusing you? Thanks so much for watching.
This is from a book I’ve given up on in the same milieu as Jet Set Desolate. Say no to drugs, kids.
San Francisco: 2004. I first met Mira after hours at The Rosetta Bar, my regular Saturday night haunt since I moved to San Francisco in 2000. The bar had just closed. Big Al shut the doors. The remaining few gathered around the bar for a last drink or several for friends of the bar staff and select regulars. I was one. The stalagmites on the ceiling shone blue like an ice cave. Stabbing down as I sat on a leather sofa. Sipped my gin. A blonde head rose by the right armrest and began to talk, fast.
“Hey, do you have a skate key?”
“I brought these roller skates and I’m about to lose a wheel. Hey, what’s your name? I’m Mira.” She was short. Bleached-blonde with sharply threaded eyebrows and expensive cosmetics on her round face.
“I’m Lena,” I said.
“Cool.” She had shoulder-length blonde hair that flipped as she talked, frenetically. Her lips smooth peach tint lacquered on and cracking. She wore no jewelry, but had on pink-wheeled roller skates. She was short. Maybe 5’1. She wasn’t drinking, but she seemed electrified. I figured some powder or another. A black beaded evening bag that seemed incongruous with her casual dress hung from her left wrist. She kept switching it from left to right nervously. I didn’t know it was stolen. Yet. I didn’t know a lot of things. Yet.
It was dark in the bar. The neon cobra hung over the bottles. The only light. I took a drink. Considered what to say.
“Do you want to come to the bathroom with me.” It was worth a try.
She smiled and followed. Gripping my shoulder cautiously so not to fall on the skates. I wondered how she had made it around the club the whole night. Bodies packed tight together perhaps they had been enough. In the bathroom, I pulled out a small plastic bag. Dipped in a key. Offered it to her. She tilted her head. Her nostrils flared, sucking up the cocaine. Her eyes snapped open.
“Oh, but do you know what’s even better? Do you know what’s even better than this?”
“Shit, what?” I said, taking my bump.
“Speed! Go-fast. Have you ever done it?”
“Maybe once in a while.” I would inhale pretty much anything that was put in front of me at this point. Once I moved to San Francisco from collegiate Portland, no drug was off limits. It just felt like adulthood. I did what I wanted.
“This stuff’s a little different. Here, I’ve got a little bit, I’ll share.”
“Cool! Yeah, I’m up for it, sure.” The dirty mirrors sparkled a little brighter. The red chandelier hung half-kilter above the sink. A lot of people peed in that sink. I had peed in that sink.
My new friend laid down two tiny lines on the vanity counter. They looked like salt, or a larger crystalline substance.
“Here, here, do you have a card?”
I passed her my Wells Fargo credit card. She took it. Laid it against the crystals. Ground it in a circular motion so that they became fine powder. She lined them up again, this time using the flat of the plastic. There was suddenly a lot more there then had been there before. She rolled up a dollar from that small purse. Passed it to me. I snorted one line. Clutched at my face as the pain slammed claw-like through my nose.
“What the shit, Mira?”
“It’s okay. It’s supposed to do that. It’ll go away. Here.” She took the dollar from me.
Bent to take her line. The powder vanished with a deep influx of breath.
Her eyes snapped open. “You’re going to like this, I think.”
I did like meth. I liked it a lot.
Mira called me the next morning at ten am because, as she said, “When I meet someone cool, I just have to call, I hate that three day thing.” She also still had my credit card.
I was still awake. I had been rearranging my room. Painting. Making outlines for projects. Typing gargantuan plans and sparkling ideas into my old PC. I was glad to hear Mira had my card, I had completely forgotten about it and her. We made plans to meet for lunch.
We met at Cafe Encore on Post Street, between Union Square and the Tenderloin. That space that landlords on craigslist called “Lower Nob Hill.” I called it “TL, bitches.” I stood before the chalkboards. Tried to figure out what kind of panini to get. My stomach ran circles around me. I settled for a chocolate croissant. I didn’t have very much money.
“Ooh! An elegant croissant!”
“Yep. What are you getting?”
“Oh, just a macaroon. That’s the specialty here. They’re delicious. And coffee, of course.”
“Yes, Oh, could I have a coffee, too. Iced. Large. Thanks.” I smiled at the guy behind the counter. He had plugs in his ears and a dour expression. He put a lid on my coffee. Passed me a straw.
There were three tables inside. Since it was a Tuesday morning, two of them were open. We sat.
“So, Mira. I’m going to ask that big question you’re not supposed to ask, but I’m dying to know. What do you do?”
She fiddled with the lid of her coffee cup. Hot.
“Oh, God,” Mira said. “That’s hard. Like, I guess you could say I’m a housewife? A muse? My boyfriend has a job. He works at Goodwill now. Oh my god, there’s so much I have to tell you. My boyfriend, my love, he was caught with other people’s mail in his backpack. Like on his bike. Got in trouble. Then we got evicted when he went in jail. I’ve been staying in weeklies and on people’s couches. My friend has been really cool about letting me stay for a few months, but yeah…”
“Oh, wow. I’m sorry. I had no idea. God, I totally didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Yeah, it’s okay. I mean, he works at Goodwill as a condition of his parole. It’s cool, like he gets first pick at the best records. I don’t get to see him all that much anymore. We used to have this awesome place together in the Mission. Had parties all the time. It was amazing but the landlord hated us.”
“I think I went to a party at your place once. I remember doing E with this guy and taking off and having pretty great sex I think, of what I remember.”
“Oh yeah, that was Angelina’s boyfriend.”
“She’s my best friend. You’ll meet her. You guys will totally get along, oh my god, pretty girls. Just don’t tell her you’re the girl that did E wither ex. She wouldn’t like that.”
I pulled the chocolate out of my croissant and sucked on it. This had the makings of a total shit-show.
I liked Mira, though. There was something about her openness, her manic energy, and the way she so readily took me into her life that I really liked. People in San Francisco were so often caught in little poses. Delicate arcs of conversation like minuets. They rarely confessed bold details of misfortunes unless drugged. Even then the etiquette was to forget it all, even the intimacy, especially the intimacy, in the morning. Here we were in the bald light of day and she had just told me things most people would hide like the bloodstains on their pillow.
A few days later when Mira called to invite me out with her and Angelina, I was pretty excited. I was going through a friend drought, having alienated my last party BFF Audrey by seeming too obviously in love with her.
“I think you want more out of this friendship than I prepared to give you,” were her last words. Toss of hair that she only had blow-dried in the salon. My type of woman was very high maintenance and very unavailable. Stone high femme? Does that exist?
So I showed up at Angelina’s Tenderloin apartment. Right at the border of Union square like so many things. We are all just looking in. It was an elegant building with a massage parlor next door. It was ten o’clock. I tried to remember her apartment number, than called Mira.
“Oh, hi! You’re here, great! I’ll buzz you in.”
The gate squealed. I opened it and the inner door as well. The lobby was small and utilitarian. Brown molding over beige walls with a small portrait of Louis XIV on the far wall. A succession of mail slots. I realized I still didn’t know the apartment number. A head popped out of the first door. Apartment 1. Angelina was beautiful. Long chestnut brown hair, flowing sideways past a face tilted with a querulous smile.
“Are you Lena?”
She pulled up. Opened the door. Let me into a studio apartment with a Murphy bed tilted at a 45-degree angle from the wall. The walk-in closet bulged with fabulous clothes. The rest of the apartment was strangely bare. There were no CDs or records. No TV. Simple furniture. An abundance of band paraphernalia on the walls. Most of it was for her boyfriend’s band.
Angelina was wearing tight black jeans and a sequined tube top. So was I. That was my regulation going out look. We laughed. She said, “Well, I should change something about this outfit.” She disappeared into the voluminous closet. Came out with a blouse and a leather jacket. Mira and I went into the kitchen while she changed. I thought about her long, pale arms. I thought about the marks on them.
We went back in. Mira said, “Does anyone want a line before we go?”
“Oh. I brought some coke if you’re interested.” I said.
“You girls go ahead, I’ve got something to finish up in the bathroom,” Angelina said. She picked up a make-up bag from a low table. Walked down the hall.
Mira said, “Speed and coke cancel each other out. You want to do one or the other and speed lasts longer. We can do your stuff at the end of the night if people come over, because social people, they don’t usually like to do speed. Oh, I forgot to tell you. Don’t tell people we’re doing this. It’s our secret. Speed’s sort of less socially acceptable than coke.”
“Ok, that’s cool.”
She laid out tiny lines and we did them quickly. Waiting. Talking. We waited longer. Angelina took what felt like an hour.
“Is she okay in there? I said. “She looked great already, I don’t get it.”
“That’s another secret,” Mira said. “She’s shooting up in there.”
At the Cat Club, Mira swirled in and out of the dancers. Angelina and I sat clustered close and talked. We did a little coke and talked some more. She told me about her ex.
“We were the most beautiful couple. People would see us in restaurants and come up to us and ask us if we were famous. I felt famous with him. Like we were Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful. His band was doing so well for awhile. And we were going to get married. He told me he was shopping for rings. I loved him. I loved him so much. We were doing heroin every day. His parents had given him a credit card for food and band expenses. Everyday we would go to the ATM and cash advance $100 from it for heroin for the day. It was like a dream. I was high all the time. We wore beautiful clothes. Rolling Stones every day.”
“Is he here tonight?”
“No. No. Let me tell you what happened. It’s horrible. It all went wrong. It’s sort of my fault, or his family thinks it’s my fault. They found out, of course. his parents noticed the credit card was being bled dry. Called him up. Were like, what the fuck. He tried not to tell them but his brother found out from one of his band-mates. Told his parents. They came down. Had an intervention with him. Told him he couldn’t see me anymore. I died inside. I was practically living with him. The band had bought a house in the Sunset with the money from their first advance from the record company. I was over there every day. Then suddenly, no Sunset house. Back at my apartment. And I noticed little things were missing. I gave Mira a key to just look over things. You know…”
Angelina leaned closer. Whispered in my ear. Her perfume intoxicating above the sweat and beer. “She pawned things. Things were missing. You can’t trust Mira. I know you asked her what she does. I know you guys are friends now. That’s great. She needs good friends. You seem like a good person. But watch out. Don’t be too naive with her. She does credit card scams. She does gift card scams. I do too. I had to once I lost my boyfriend. I haven’t worked in years. He used to support me and before that my mom did. Lately I’ve been scraping by on pawning things, boosting and scamming stuff. You can steal things from department stores and return them for a lot of money. It’s called boosting.”
“Here, have another bump.”
Without getting up, I fed it to her on the edge of my key. There were so many people pressed tight around us that no one noticed. She kept talking, “It’s nice to talk to someone who isn’t in the life. What do you do, like how do you make it?”
“I temp, here and there. It’s alright. I don’t make a lot of money, but it’s okay.”
“Yeah, that’s good.”
“Where is he now?”
“Oh.” Her face crumpled. “He’s either in rehab or he’s back in the Sunset recording with his band. He’s not allowed to contact me.”
“I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about that.”
“Let’s not. Let’s dance, Lena. Didn’t we come here to dance? Of course we didn’t, but let’s dance anyway.” She grabbed my hand. We blended into the mass of people cramming in small dance floor. Hands raised. Bodies writhing. Her body against mine. Pulling away and then close and then away again.
This I wrote to be on a signboard with other stories about West Hollywood at an LGBT art show in 2014.
I remember West Hollywood both drunk at the Abbey and processing in a circle of chairs in my outpatient rehab. Walking past the bars where I used to drink on the way to get Starbucks with an ex-meth addict I saw West Hollywood as if for the first time. West Hollywood Recovery Center. The rooms. No longer was it just the exhausting search for a parking spot on a rainy night. Grappling with and losing friends who had had several too many. Suddenly the light rain in the spring air opened forth a pink cloud halo of sobriety.
I remember West Hollywood as the place my wife and I dressed up as the brides we later became and were photographed for the newspaper at a Prop. 8 rally. That day she and I realized we could really get married. When Katie proposed I cried and said yes. Before we were done planning our wedding the courts put a stay on gay marriages. We signed a domestic partnership. On May 11, 2011, Katie and I had a beautiful but not legal wedding at a Japanese garden in Little Toyko.
A year later my wife was dead by suicide. Two years later gay marriage became legal in California. By then it was too late for us. My wife did not live to see this day that brought so many others such joy. It was a bittersweet day for me. But I remember feeling that same joy with her in West Hollywood the day of that rally, as we cheered with our brothers and sisters for the right to love that had finally been granted.
I finished the wedding album years after my wife’s ashes were scattered in Echo Park Lake. When I look at the album I see in our idealistic faces and Louis Verdad gowns the dream that so many lovers have to make a life together. Our dream was dashed. But dreams live again in time. And that same dream of marriage may now be lived by so many other queers.
It wasn’t until my wife was but spirit that I had the courage to enter rehab and let go of the stranglehold that liquid spirits had on my life. I popped in to the Abbey this Christmas Eve to drink a tonic water with a friend. Rejoiced that I lived somewhere where I could see a muscular go-go dancer in Santa shorts dance on Christmas Eve. Rejoiced that I didn’t need to drink any more.
Queer mecca. Healing and hope in sobriety. Drag shows at Hamburger Mary’s. The Abbey. The Log Cabin. Plummer Park. Getting sober with a redheaded model over Matcha green tea lattés at Urth Café. The lingering ghosts of memories hang over these streets with the bright palm trees and nail salons. In West Hollywood I both lost and found myself again. Each rainbow crosswalk is an untapped treasure. I will never forget West Hollywood.
This essay was probably one of the most controversial ones I’ve written short of witchcraft bathing in menstrual blood. This essay was written in 2014 and published in now defunct Queer Mental Health. Soon after, I posted it in an alcoholism support group and got an epic pile on and run out on a rail. So, if you disagree, that’s nice, that’s your business, everyone’s experience is different, just please don’t do that again. This is my honest experience.
Urged by an outpatient rehab after 20 years of alcoholism, I attended Alcoholics Anonymous for 1 year. Long enough to attend countless meetings. Get a sponsor, a kind ex-stripper. On her guidance, I signed up for service commitments at meetings and did free menial labor. I worked the steps up to step 4. Relapsed.
Failure is built into the punitive, guilt-ridden fabric of AA. An archaic framework of Christian dogma marketed as the only way to get sober. If you fail it’s your fault. If you succeed it’s God’s miracle. Every meeting we recited that those who drink after AA are “naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.” According to AA honesty in confession to unscrupulous strangers will keep you from drinking. That and the will of God.
AA and rehab encouraged me to break ties with old, “using friends” and form a new social group in AA. I lost my dear old friends. Made 2 good new friends. Had a lot of strangers give me their number and disappear. There is some truth that more sober friends will encourage sobriety. But the isolation bred from this technique and the false doctrine of trusting other AA members is actively dangerous. Members of the cult are pressured to give their phone number out to strangers. Accept rides home from strangers, as many are carless from DUIs. Tell strangers their secrets and woes. There is a culture of boundary-less-ness where people are exploited. Every year women are raped by AA members and sponsors that they are pressured to trust. Scam artists borrow money and run scams on wealthier AA members. AA covers it up.
AA only has a 5% success rate. It’s extremely dangerous both financially and sexually. Spilling your innermost secrets to a room full of low-lifes and criminals is not a safe situation. It is less likely to make you sober than to put you into dangerous and drama-filled situations. Most people who achieve lasting sobriety do it on their own out of will, harm reduction and simply being “done.” The revolving door of relapses is caused by the endless obsession with drugs and alcohol that comes with lifelong meeting attendance.
I spent meetings with my sponsor arguing over every sentence I read of the Big Book. Being an atheist, I couldn’t find any way for God’s healing miracle to occur. The universe I saw then as a higher power was too vast and pitiless to care about my problems. The universe is better suited as a print for leggings than a stardust solution to my drinking problem.
The forced powerlessness was demoralizing. I am a woman, I already know I am powerless. The first step of AA is “I admitted I was powerless over alcohol.” Telling an alcoholic they have no control and cannot help themselves without submitting completely and praying for a miracle from a Christian daddy-in-the-sky God is not effective medicine. Would we ask cancer patients to pray it away? Yet we are asking this of alcoholics. Court-ordered faith healing.
As much as I wanted desperately to get sober, my three relapses spoke otherwise. Not coincidentally, they were all triggered by things that occurred in AA.
My first relapse I was kicked out of the AT Center where I had been going to most of my meetings. A hostile old-timer contested me taking my rehab “court card” back when I had to leave the meeting early. A burly butch, she chased me out of the meeting yelling. On a dogmatic technicality, I was banned from the place where I was getting sober. I relapsed that night.
My next relapse was driven by the stress of the 4th step. The 12 steps are unpleasant and stressful ordeals involving humiliation and self-flagellation. Seemingly designed and in fact promised to test you.
“So many people relapse on the 4th step,” I was told.
I fatalistically anticipated relapsing with the 9th step also. The 9th step dictates making amends to everyone we have wronged as a result of our using. An exhaustive and humiliating project of tracking down past employers and drug buddies. I couldn’t stomach the degradation. I didn’t want to look those people in the eye another time.
I was told over and over I needed to do all of these seemingly unrelated, incredibly unpleasant things to get sober. Who was making these crazy rules? A womanizing alcoholic in the 1930s, apparently. Dread and anxiety over the ordeal of the steps drove me to relapse again. I ask you, why do these steps exist if they explicitly cause relapses? Isn’t the whole point to get sober, not run a relay race built for failure?
The powerless party line completely absolves the alcoholic of any personal responsibility when they relapse. I felt powerless during my third relapse as I went to the liquor store. It wasn’t until I got ahold of my willpower from enough therapy that I had the power to get sober. And sober I became.
I was told in rehab that AA was the only way. I gave it a try.
I finally decided I would be better off leaving the sketchy cesspool of AA and pursuing harm reduction with medical marijuana and a private therapist. Safety, security, creativity and happiness returned. I came back to myself from the self-abnegating shell I had been in AA. AA was useful in learning how to run a cult. I decided I would rather be a cult leader than a cult follower. I took up witchcraft. Got back into writing and painting. When I was in AA I did none of this because AA was such a time and energy suck. When I left AA, my creativity blossomed. I had my life back from the cult.
Before I wrote this article I visited with my best friend, an ex-model who I met in detox and rehab. We went to many AA meetings together in 2013. It was with her that I received the good I was to get out of AA. It helped to hear all of the drunkalogue stories and know that I was not alone. I was not the only troubled broken person who had struggled with addiction. Although some had barely suffered compared to what I had been through, some stories were so much darker. AA gave me perspective. As a writer it was an invaluable glimpse into the human psyche.
My friend cautioned me about writing this article about AA, citing the “anonymity in press, radio and film,” dictated by the 12 Traditions. She argued that it might be illegal to publicly criticize AA as they were so in bed with the government. AA has a literal gag order on their members to talk publicly about the cult. The first rule of AA is we don’t talk about AA. This only made me want to write my article more. A check with the editor and googling various online AA criticism reassured me that critiques were plentiful and necessary. I don’t care if AA demagogues prohibit me writing about it on the Internet. I will tell my story. I’m not in their cult anymore. I don’t have to follow cult rules.
If we raise our voices loud enough we can throw off the shackles of this paternalistic, Christian, 1930s-outdated addiction recovery model and reach towards new and better recovery methods. Harm reduction has a 90% success rate. I have 479 days and counting sober without a single AA meeting. My sobriety date corresponds to the day I got my medical marijuana card.
Life has gotten so much better since I don’t have to hang out with leering felons. Confess things I don’t even think are sins to strangers in anguished dirty rooms. Rake my life over the coals and relapse again and again because going to meetings and talking about alcohol 3-7 times a week is making me obsessed with it.
Now I just don’t drink. I’ve moved on. I don’t need AA anymore. I am “happy, joyous and free” without it.
This is a revised writing exercise from my MFA that I have been working with for years. I submitted it to a big journal who rejected it. Once again realized that I should only send out new work.
I stared out at the rooftops from my lounge on Micah’s bed. The expanse swathed with cowboy sheets and bloodstains. Two weeks since I was fired. Timothy out of town. I was over at Micah’s. I was about to leave Golden Hill forever.
The French doors opened onto the summer night. The sky luminescent with stars over palm trees bursting to the skyline. Micah smoked a cigarette out the balcony. Stared fiercely into the night. His arms were marred with bandages. His jaw clenched. The fairy-wisps of smoke drifted up along the tall green stripes on the walls surrounding.
The bang came suddenly. Like artillery downstairs with a guttural roar behind. I took a long drink of the Shiraz on the bedside table. Band-Aids. Dior Pour Homme. The roar came again with the sound of breaking glass.
I ran a hand across my short, bleached hair. Smoothed it over the two cowboys on the sheets traipsing around a campfire in lockstep. The bed Micah shared with his boyfriend.
Micah spoke, “There’s nothing we can do.”
“Are you sure? Can’t we call the police?”
“I’ve tried. They tell me that as long as he doesn’t actually come into the apartment, there’s nothing that they can do.”
“Good lord.” I took another drink. My lips stained purple.
I curled up into a ball on the bed. Cupped my knees. The ceiling fan turned and turned above us. Beads of moisture formed on the blades.
Micah got up in his boxers. Tossed the Camel out the window. Stalked into the bathroom. A huge wooden carousel rooster stood guard along the wall. Orange beak curved to steal, to bite.
My bare legs stretched behind me in shirt and panties only, I turned away. Waited. I was good at waiting.
It was too hot to wear clothes. We had crept out of our clothes slowly with the wine. The daytime heat not abated with the night’s advancing. Timothy was away working.
There was a wrenching sound from below. I cringed. A yell. I yelped. Skittered off the bed towards the stairs. Up or down, there was no relief. Only upwards. Outwards. Towards the sky to fly. Over the narrow courtyard with its row of kiddy pools. Cacti. To the spines.
When I still lived with my parents in 2005, I had a recurring dream of leaving my body in my bed. Floating down the hall up through my parents bedroom. Out of their balcony to fly over the beautiful canyon and freeway wending to the water. To the ocean. To be free. I wonder if I was astral projecting. I don’t know. I will never know.
Micah emerged in his bedroom.
“Look, he said, “I don’t know. I don’t know anywhere else I can go. I know you can go home. You should. There’s no need to stay here with me.”
I stared up at him. Shredded the sheets beneath my fingers. Knew this was his boyfriend’s apartment and not my own. It was wrong for me to lay half-naked in his bed. To stay past the designated hour. Yet I lingered.
I was just so attracted to Micah. My dashing bisexual friend. I was so alone in the world. I knew that whatever I gave him sexually would not matter. I was about to leave town.
“No, I can’t.”
“I wouldn’t be mad. You can.”
“Then let’s dance.” He turned to the record player. Put on a Johnny Mathis record. “Twelfth of Never” came on. Micah reached out to me.
I rose. Let him wrap me in a waltz. Ballroom dancing to records was something Micah and I did together. Part of our pantomime of romance. I fumbled in my steps as his broad arms wrapped my waist. A rattle and a shriek came from downstairs.
“Don’t think,” said Micah. He twirled me. I stepped free. Wrapped back into his arms as he flicked his wrist. We were practiced. Just as practiced at turning away.
I fell to kiss his neck.
“That’s entirely enough of that.” Micah smiled softly. Let me go.
His shoulder bandage fell. It was a drunken mirror accident: Vicodin. Red wine. He crushed his way into his boyfriend’s floor-length mirror. This earned him a substantial phone lecture earlier that weekend from Timothy.
I stared at his arms from the other side of the bed as he talked on the phone that afternoon. My finger traced forwards from time to time. Withdrew again. Extended with longing. Clamped around the sheet.
Micah had to know I wanted him. Was it just that he was so financially dependent on his boyfriend? Perhaps. Yet still I tried.
There was blood all over the sheets now from Micah’s wound. Dried blood. I knew it was HIV+ infected blood but I didn’t care. I rolled around in it. Sprawling. My legs tunneling through the sheets.
I kissed Micah’s neck again.
“No, Lena, I can’t. I really can’t.”
“But – “
“It’s more than just Tim. It’s the fact that you’re about to leave forever. I don’t want my parting present to you to be that. My HIV. You know this. Even with a condom there is risk.”
“No. For the last time, no.”
I stared down at my hands. Micah walked again to the window. Stared out fiercely.
What I would have done for him. Now that’s love or loneliness.
Micah reached for his cigarettes. Pulled one out slowly.
“It’s a warm night,” he said.
I put my clothes back on. Gathered my things.
Downstairs, there was the sound of breaking glass.